Study Shows that Even a Small Amount of Meditation can Improve Cognitive Skills
Posted Jul 16 2010 12:00am
Your cognitive abilities include any mental skills that are used in the process of acquiring knowledge; these skills include reasoning, perception, and intuition. Some people drink caffiene to stay mentally alert, other pop caffeine pills. Well a new study by a North Carolina Researcher shows that meditation for just 20 minutes a day, can improve your cognitive skills.
New research now suggests that the mind may be easier to cognitively train than previously thought. The researchers tested a meditation technique known as "mindfulness " found that meditation-trained participants showed a significant improvement in their critical cognitive skills (and performed significantly better in cognitive tests than a control group) after only four days of training for only 20 minutes each day.
The study was completed by Fadel Zeiden, at the University of North Carolina. "In the behavioral test results, what we are seeing is something that is somewhat comparable to results that have been documented after far more extensive training," said Fadel Zeidan
The study involved 63 student volunteers. They were first tested for behavior including mood,memory, attention processing, visual processing and vigilance. Participants were randomly to 2 groups:
Group 1 received the meditation training
The other group listened for equivalent periods of time to a book (J.R.R. Tolkein's The Hobbit) being read out loud.
Both groups performed equally on all measures at the beginning of the experiment. Both groups also improved following the meditation and reading experiences in measures of mood, but only the group that received the meditation training improved significantly in the cognitive measures. The meditation group scored consistently higher averages than the reading/listening group on all the cognitive tests and as much as ten times better on one challenging test that involved sustaining the ability to focus, while holding other information in mind.
"The meditation group did especially better on all the cognitive tests that were timed," Zeidan stated. "In tasks where participants had to process information under time constraints causing stress, the group briefly trained in mindfulness performed significantly better."
Particularly of note were the differing results on a "computer adaptive n-back task," where participants would have to correctly remember if a stimulus had been shown two steps earlier in a sequence. If the participant got the answer right, the computer would react by increasing the speed of the subsequent stimulus, further increasing the difficulty of the task. The meditation-trained group averaged aproximately 10 consecutive correct answers, while the listening group averaged approximately one.
What type of meditation did the participants do? The meditation training involved in the study was an abbreviated "mindfulness" training regime modeled on basic "Shamatha skills" from a Buddhist meditation tradition, conducted by a trained facilitator. As described in the paper, "participants were instructed to relax, with their eyes closed, and to simply focus on the flow of their breath occurring at the tip of their nose. If a random thought arose, they were told to passively notice and acknowledge the thought and to simply let 'it' go, by bringing the attention back to the sensations of the breath." Subsequent training built on this basic model, teaching physical awareness, focus, and mindfulness with regard to distraction.
"Simply stated, the profound improvements that we found after just 4 days of meditation training- are really surprising," Zeidan noted. "It goes to show that the mind is, in fact, easily changeable and highly influenced, especially by meditation."
Zeidan describes training the partipants in the study as a type of exercise for the brain and mind.
The study appears in the April 2 issue of Consciousness and Cognition.
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